Stephen Bainbridge and Gordon Smith are fooling around with a website that purports to calculate the readability of your webpage. Gordon is especially fascinated by two quite different scores, both of which purport to represent how many years of schooling one would need to read his writing. Steve seems to assume that a smarter person writes harder-to-read prose -- which would put Kevin Drum on an unusually high level. [UPDATE: Steve's only kidding.]
But if you read how the calculations are done, you'll see it's all about the length of your words and sentences. So a person who likes to start a new sentence with "and" or "but," instead of going with a comma when there's an independent clause, will get a lower grade level score. So will a person who follows Strunk and White and chooses Anglo Saxon rather than Latin-derived words. I'd say you're probably writing better if you end up with a lower grade-level score.
These simplistic calculations don't encompass enough factors to really tell us how hard or easy it is to read someone's prose. Mark Twain scores lower than Reader's Digest in one calculation, because, I'm guessing, he likes to insert periods, spices things up with some very short sentences, and edits out stuffy polysyllabic words. But I'll bet you can skim through Reader's Digest faster, because there aren't so many surprising observations.
The real question is how sophisticated your ideas are. If you are saying simple things in convoluted prose, you're a terrible writer who doesn't deserve to be read. Point me to the writer -- like Mark Twain -- who's saying striking, new things in clear prose! Blogs, especially, should be easy to read. But blog posts should contribute something new to the mix. Do you seriously think you're doing a better job if you're writing something harder to read? Don't you think Mark Twain worked over his prose to make it readable?
Frankly, I'm disgusted by the atrocious writing I have to read every day as part of my job. Frequently, reading judicial decisions and law review articles, I struggle to get the point, I take the time to decode the eye-glazing verbiage, and when I get it translated into plain English, I see it's a pretty simple point. This kind of writing is a product of laziness, the lack of genuinely interesting ideas, a careerist effort to seem smart and high-level, and a selfish lack of consideration for the reader.
UPDATE: Sissy Willis agrees with me and is nice enough to point out that my post is easy to read and adds something to the mix -- which is the standard I set for blogs. Also, people seem to be assuming that these calculations are something new, but I can remember when a grammar check on Microsoft Word ended with these numbers. And there's another problem with assessing a blogger's writing this way: a good portion of the writing on a blog is in the quotes. I'd like to see my numbers with the quotes excluded: a lot of the fusty writing is in the quotes.